The educational opportunities available to Greenwood County graduates are growing.

Tuesday morning marked the beginning of the campaign to raise funds for phase two of The Greenwood Promise with the Breakfast of Champions kickoff event at Emerald High School. Education, community and industry leaders gathered to celebrate The Promise and learn about phase two.

The Greenwood Promise phase one provides tuition assistance for Greenwood County graduates to obtain a certificate, diploma or associate degree from Piedmont Technical College, or another South Carolina technical college if their desired major isn’t offered at PTC. Phase two will add onto that the final two years of a four-year degree at Lander University, or another state university offering a specific program, for 45 students per year.

The Promise, since it was launched in 2017, has awarded 358 scholarships. Daniel Ortez is the recipient of one of those scholarships.

“I would never have imagined that I would go to college,” Ortez told breakfast attendees on Tuesday.

Greenwood Promise, he said, has given him the opportunity to make something for himself. The recent graduate spoke of his past, and his plans for the future after college.

“My dad passed away in 2009 and my mom was deported back in 2017. So to tell you the truth, at age 15 until now, I didn’t have a roof over my head and I had to bounce from place to place,” Ortez said.

“Those years, college was out of the question. Now I have a place to stay, now people care about my future.”

Being able to go to college through Greenwood Promise, he said, reduced his stress level. His degree will show those who didn’t believe in him they were wrong, Ortez said, and will allow him to invest back into the community. He plans to use the degree in construction he is seeking at Piedmont Tech to building tiny houses for the homeless.

“Thank you for investing in this program and allowing students to better ourselves, to accomplish our dreams,” he said.

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman attended Tuesday’s breakfast and spoke about the impact of Greenwood Promise.

“You’re giving the resources for our young people to really make the best story of their lives that they can,” she said.

She spoke of driving to Greenwood from Saluda on Tuesday morning, and stopping along Highway 178 — Benjamin Mays Highway — to pause and reflect on Mays’ impact.

Who would have ever dreamed someone of his impact and stature, she asked, was way out in the country in Greenwood County? There are others, she said, who need opportunity and encouragement.

“So keep it up, God bless you and thank you for what you’re doing to impact the lives of children here in Greenwood County.”

Spearman also pointed out that when Greenwood Promise was launched, the county was eight points behind the state average for the number of graduates that entered post-secondary education after high school. Greenwood is now five points above the state average.

The breakfast ended with a big announcement. Richard Cosentino, president of Lander University, announced the school is giving $100,000 a year for the next five years to Greenwood Promise.

“Lander is so proud of Greenwood Promise and we are thrilled that the Promise is moving into phase two,” Cosentino said.

Katie Davenport, executive director of the Greenwood Promise, said the organization has good partnerships with both Piedmont Tech, which made a donation during phase one, and Lander.

“The Piedmont Tech Foundation made a donation to us and now we have Lander stepping up and making a $100,000 for five years pledge to the Greenwood Promise and we are hoping that our students are just going to flood Piedmont Tech and Lander. We are going to continue sending students to both, but we are excited for phase two,” Davenport said.

The phase two campaign so far has $2,292,640 pledged, including Lander’s commitment announced Tuesday.

Contact staff writer Lindsey Hodges at 864-943-5644 or on Twitter @LindseyNHodges.